Following the trail of local environmental progress
It’s easy to look around and assume that our local government, businesses, even our neighbors aren’t doing much to make our planet a better place to be. But truth be told, there is a lot going on. Once one starts digging a little deeper, it’s almost a little startling to see how much time, energy and money have been invested in turning our wasteful, polluting habits into ecofriendly, sustainable ways of living and doing business. This year’s Earth Day issue is focused on the work and success of local environmental advocates and their projects.
Alternative is in
Alternative fuel fever has hit the county. Some Ventura police administrators own the Toyota Prius, while the Ventura Police Department has eight hybrids. The fire department has a couple of its own hybrids for work as well. Lately, former Ventura City Councilman and Mayor Richard Francis can be seen cruising around in his marketed-to-hipsters, bright-orange Mini Cooper-looking car called the Fiat 500e. Locals find themselves doing what Europeans have done for decades, driving tiny cars.
Forward farm thinking
McGrath Family Farms is one of Ventura County’s oldest farms, which began in 1868 and is now on its fifth generation of farmers. The McGrath family began organic farming in 1995, and focus on rotating crops throughout the year, versus what many local farmers do, farming only one crop each year, also known as mono-cropping. Mono-cropping has been known to strip soil of its nutrients and may contribute to the proliferation of crop pests and disease. The McGrath family also began a pilot program, working with UC Berkeley researchers on planting “flower islands” among the crops to lure bees to the farm for pollination. In the midst of all these progressive, eco-friendly farming techniques, McGrath Family Farms will host a Farm Education Day the fourth Sunday of each month, beginning April 27, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Topics include ground work, cover crops, planting, cultivation, fertilizers, irrigation, water, composting and tractors. For more information and to reserve a spot, contact 485-4210.
Commercial food waste composting
There are numerous local businesses (mainly in Ventura, including supermarkets, restaurants, etc.) and facilities (hospitals, jails and the Ventura County Fairgrounds) that participate in the food-waste compost program, and save money with less trash by doing something good for the environment: diverting tons of food waste from landfills to local compost facilities to be transformed into fertilizer for local farmers. As of summer last year, Agromin and Harrison Industries had more than 50 businesses participating in a commercial business compost program, which began in 2012.
Oxnard also started its own commercial food-waste recycling pilot program in November, working with Whole Foods and St. John’s Regional Medical Center. In one month, the program diverted 20 tons of waste from the landfill.
Global oil and conservation efforts shape the landscape of local beaches. In between South Oxnard and the Ventura Harbor lie the only coastal wetlands for hundreds of miles. The 230-acre Ormond Beach is cradled by the rowdy Pacific and habitat to surfers in the ocean and birders on the shore. More than 200 migrating bird species come through. Snowy plovers with soft white poofs of feathers sun in the sand next to Halaco’s EPA Superfund site. The beach is perpetually in danger of development, including the 2011 proposed SouthShore residential/commercial/industrial project that environmental groups fought to stop, and won.
The Nature Conservancy manages the restoration of the spot. Its extensive résumé of handling land preservation all around the world makes it well-suited to work the largest coastal wetlands conservation project in Southern California.
The county’s largest solar project
The largest solar project in Ventura County was installed at the Moorpark Water Reclamation Facility (located at 9550 Los Angeles Ave.). The one megawatt (MW) system, funded in part by a Southern California Edison (SCE) grant, covers 80 percent of the facility’s energy needs. This reduces the facility’s energy bill by the amount of energy needed to power 500 average homes for a year. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions on par with planting 175 trees.
Eating local at home
For about $25 a week, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) gives customers a hefty load of organic produce brought directly from local farmers. No middleman grocer means cheaper prices. Our agriculture-rich locale offers many CSAs. “I have used a couple of them,” says Conejo Valley resident Paula Lopez. “The first one was Join the Farm, which I liked a lot, although many of the items in the box were things that I had no idea what they were.” Deardorff Family Farms Fresh Picks CSA gives cooking classes with Seasons Catering in Ventura so you can learn how to prepare unrecognizable produce. Go to www.jointhefarm.com for more information.
Electric vehicle incentives
Here, federal and state governments give great incentives to buy electric. A Californian can get up to $10,000 for a new EV (www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/aqip/cvrp.htm). “At this time, most of the tax incentives are for new vehicle purchases and some infrastructure of compressed natural gas. California has robust funding for alternative fuels,” said Arjun Sarkar a two-decade alternative transportation activist and alternative fuels coordinator at University of California, Santa Barbara.
First certified organic winery
Casa Barranca Organic Winery in Ojai is the first certified organic winery in the Santa Barbara region, because of the certified organic grapes used from the region’s vineyards, including the La Encantada and Mira Laguna. Casa Barranca was certified by Organic Certifiers of Ventura.
Grow your own
Camarillo Seed grows old-school food and simultaneously preserves it through seed sharing (www.facebook.com/camarillo.seeds). The organization is the brainchild of Laura Maher. This ecologically ambitious 30-something began her seed journey at the Camarillo Community Gardens. Then Maher’s intimate history and gardening collided. “My father passed on some Christmas lima bean seeds that were originally from my great-grandfather’s farm in Evansville, Ill.,” Maher said. “My father had grown them before and said they grew like crazy. From there on I realized seed saving and gardening go hand in hand.”
Like seed sharing communities around the world, Camarillo Seed is a social, gardening, educational and political club all wrapped in one. It is also a library within the Camarillo library. Seeds are given out and persons with seeds can make donations.
The power of solar
An electric car is only as clean as the grid it draws from. An EV would hardly be worth the environmental effort if powered by the coal-soaked West Virginia grid, but more worthwhile in such hydropowered states as Washington.
Bambi Rueben proposes a solar transportation solution. “The most intelligent way of supporting the installation of an EV charger, even if it is just a 240v outlet in the garage, is to install an array of solar panels,” she said. “Solar installation has become so simple that my sister could probably do it.”
Oil drilling on- and offshore
More Californians than ever before use solar. According to Reuters, on March 8 California hit a record. Solar connections to the grid clocked at 4,093 megawatts. That was double what existed in 2012.
Off the shore of Oxnard is Platform Gail, which is owned by Venoco, Inc. According to the Environmental Defense Center of Santa Barbara, in its report entitled "Dirty Water," Platform Gail has a history of spills, with 32 violations for not following basic operating procedures from 2005 to 2010. In 2010, the Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has records of Venoco discharging 320,000 gallons of produced water in February, March and April. Nahal Mogharabi, public affairs specialist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said though Platform Gail has a permit to discharge produced wastewater, it has not discharged recently and is not expected to. It does have a permit to discharge drilling muds into the ocean, which may contain trace amounts of produced waste water and chemicals, such as biocides and lubricants. Drilling muds have occasionally been discharged, Mogharabi said.
At Venoco, Inc.’s fields near McGrath Beach, according to a county planning report, rough necks will be working the coastal strip for the next eight months, 24 hours a day, with stadium style lights in the evening. Access to parts of the beach may be limited during the project.
Ventura goes green and gets silver
The city of Ventura achieved “Silver” status as a California Green Community last April for its commitment to sustainability. Ventura is only the seventh city to be honored by California Green Communities for its efforts.
Thousand Oaks’ green fleet
The city of Thousand Oaks converted one-third of its vehicle fleet to alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs). Thousand Oaks was the first city in Ventura County to purchase compressed natural gas (CNG) passenger vehicles and buses and the first to operate a public/private CNG fueling facility and electrical charging stations. The City now aims to convert 50 percent of its fleet to AFVs.
Ventura’s California Certified Green restaurants
There’s nothing like knowing that some of restaurants go the extra mile not only to make the dining experience awesome but go above and beyond the status quo to protect the environment. According to the California Certified Green Business website, only the city of Ventura has certified green restaurants in Ventura County. They include:
• 71 Palm at 71 N. Palm St.; 653-7222
• Alexander’s Restaurant at 1050 Schooner Drive; 658-2000
• Anacapa Brewing Company at 472 E. Main St.; 643-2337
• Himalaya at 35 W. Main St.; 643-0795
• RedBrick Pizza at 4990 Telephone Road, suite 100; 658-2828
Ventura County Electric Vehicle Association
Even the most affordable EVs require money down and good credit. Environmentalist Bambi Rueben wants this changed. She is rebuilding a sweet 1961 MG to electric and getting help from the Ventura County Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA). “I am the only girl in the club,” said the prolific DIY enthusiast. VEVA members share information on how to transform gas engines to electric motors by using the online community, improvisation and one another.
“Typically, people who build cars are working class and lower middle class and they don’t have access to up to the $10,000 in federal and California state funds of those who buy new cars,” said Rueben. She wants low-interest loans to purchase expensive EV batteries and to use the DMV salvage program to manage it.
NOTE: Various items on this list were taken from local and state government websites.